New Zealand recovered from early collapse in its second innings to reach 35-3 at stumps Sunday on the third day of the third cricket test, leading England by 274 runs after scorning a rare chance to enforce the follow on.
Left-arm fast bowler Trent Boult took 6-68 as New Zealand dismissed England for 204 in reply to its own first innings of 443 — a 239-run lead.
Captain Brendon McCullum refused to enforce the follow on and watched as New Zealand's top order disintegrated in the first eight overs of its second innings.
Hamish Rutherford was out for 0, Kane Williamson for 1 and Ross Taylor for 3 as New Zealand slumped to 8-3.
Fortunately for McCullum, first innings century-maker Peter Fulton steadied the innings and was 14 not out by stumps, having put on 27 with Dean Brownlie who was 13 not out. But New Zealand had barely begun to build a defensible second innings total.
For the second day in succession, 11 wickets fell and fortunes in the match see-sawed wildly, adding to the implicit drama of a deciding test match of a three-test series of which the first two tests were drawn.
New Zealand hasn't won a test series against England in New Zealand for almost 30 years, since 1984 when a New Zealand team containing Richard Hadlee beat an England team featuring Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Derek Randall.
Only three members of the current New Zealand side — McCullum, 34-year-old opener Fulton and 32-year-old spinner Bruce Martin — were born when that series was played and the significance of a victory in this series would be magnified by that long wait.
England's first innings crumbled in two stages on Saturday, divided by a 101-run sixth wicket partnership between Matt Prior (73) and Joe Root (45) which provided the substance of their innings.
England lost three wickets to lbw decisions in the first session Sunday — two to Tim Southee and one to Boult — to slump to 92-5 at lunch, but were revived by Prior and Root who took them to 173-5.
That hard work was undone when Prior was out 15 minutes before tea and only four balls before the second new ball with which Boult wrecked the England lower order.
Prior reached his 26th test half century in 134 minutes, from 102 balls, with nine fours. H was out slashing a ball from Neil Wagner to Rutherford at point.
England's last five wickets fell for 31 runs in the face of Boult's aggressive new ball spell which left him with his first five wicket test haul and gave New Zealand a position of almost total command with two days remaining.
"Personally I was pretty happy with the way I went and to have a 280-run lead is a pretty position to be in," Boult said.
"It was a good feeling to get my first five wicket haul and to get six was even more pleasing. I think there's no doubt there was a bit of swing around and all three seamers looked to use that quite well. Definitely the ball moved around and we were just in a good area for a long time."
New Zealand's seemingly impregnable position began to crumble when McCullum chose not to impose the follow on, mindful that his bowlers were weary after almost 90 overs of England's first innings.
He handed a chance to England and James Anderson and Stuart Broad ripped through the Kiwi top order to again tip the balance in a match in which no side had held the initiative for long.
Hamish Rutherford was out without scoring in the second over, when New Zealand was only four, and Williamson, who made 91 in a 181-run partnership with Fulton in the first innings, was out for 1 with the total at 5.
Ross Taylor was then trapped lbw for 3 by a superb delivery from Broad which was full, swung and struck him on the front pad.
Taylor called on the television umpire to review the decision but, catching a glimpse of a replay on the big screen at Eden Park, left the field before his decision was made. Fulton batted for almost six hours in the first innings and showed similar resilience on Sunday to steer New Zealand to stumps without further loss.
After three days, on which 23 wickets have fallen, the match remained in the balance by stumps. Broad finished the third day with 2-7 and Anderson with 1-11 — his 298th wicket in tests as he edges nearer to becoming the fourth Englishman to take 300 test wickets.